Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Trail's Gone Cold

Authorities in Montenegro spent the weekend talking to various members of the Karadzic family, amid rumours the fugitive Radovan Karadzic has been hiding out there lately. The former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs has been on the run for more than a decade, as has his military henchman Ratko Mladic. Despite being Europe's most wanted men, little's been heard of them in all that time.

It seems certain both are somewhere in either Serbia, Montenegro, or the Republika Srpska, which is the Serb bit of Bosnia. But a mixture of some of Europe's roughest terrain, fiercely loyal elements in the Serb military, and general incompetence and corruption among local officials, has made it easy for them to remain at large. But they'll be caught eventually, and it's the EU that holds the key to how quickly it'll happen.

The other Balkan countries are casting envious eyes at Slovenia, which was barely touched by the war and is firmly in the club these days. It's twice as prosperous as the rest of the former Yugoslavia, and proudly flies the EU flag from its embassies around the world. The other nations are still exhausted by the war, and need the prospect of EU entry to help them establish themselves. But Brussels rightly won't talk until all the war criminals are handed over. Croatia's government finally gave in 15 months ago, risking mass unpopularity with its people by giving up its most wanted fugitive, Ante Gotovina. A national hero for leading the Croats to victory over the Serbs in 1995, he's now answering questions about hundreds of dead Serb civilians. Croatia's reward is likely EU membership within two years, which will mean money, investment and lots more tourism on its Adriatic coast.

It's money and investment that's even more desperately needed in Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia. But as long as politicians and police in each country think the capture of Karadzic and Mladic would make enough of the public angry, they won't try too hard to find them. That's why it's up to the EU to make a big show of twisting arms. It should do two things: first, set a deadline of later this year, and tell the three governments that if they're not in custody by then, talks on EU membership will be off the table for a generation; and also put up a much bigger cash reward for whoever hands them in, in the hope it'll persuade someone shielding them to finally betray them. Those two juicy carrots might just do the trick, but it's up to Brussels to make it happen.

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